Exploitation and Extortion: Assessing Pakistan Taliban's Economic Lifeline
By Animesh Roul
Originally published as "Gems, Timber and Jiziya: Pakistan's Taliban Harness Resources to Fund Jihad", Terrorism Monitor , Vol.7 (11), April 30, 2009.
I just published one article on the Taliban resurgence in Pakistan’s lawless region and their ever increasing financial strength through large scale exploitation of natural resources and extortion money collected from minority religious communities in the name of protection money.
Here is an excerpt from the piece:
...The multiple sources of Taliban income make the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) a resilient and well-armed group with an agenda of turning Pakistan into an Islamic state. Observers fear the wealth at the disposal of Taliban will enable them to sustain their jihad activities in Pakistan and beyond.
The exploitation of northwest Pakistan’s natural resources for organizational revenues started in April 2008, when Taliban militants took over the Ziarat marble quarry, a white marble mine in the Mohmand tribal district. Before the arrival of the Taliban, Islamabad had planned to modernize the marble mines at Ziarat as part of an effort to increase marble and granite exports to $500 million per year by 2013. Roughly one million tons of marble are extracted from FATA every year (Daily Times [Lahore], July 20, 2008). Since the Taliban takeover, the quarry has brought the Taliban tens of thousands of dollars. Buoyed by this success, the TTP began eying the emerald deposits of Swat.
Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the Swat-based Tehrik Taliban Swat (TTS), has been largely responsible for this economic activity in the NWFP. Fazlullah, the son-in-law of TNSM leader Sufi Muhammad, now controls these mining activities in Swat and adjoining places. According to one report, the gemstones are sold quickly at below market prices and smuggled to the Indian city of Jaipur (capital of Rajasthan) and thereafter transported to Bangkok, Switzerland and Israel (Sunday Telegraph, April 4). A BBC report indicated that emerald prices range from $1,000 to more than $100,000 for a cut stone, depending on the size and quality (BBC News, March 24).
Another lucrative source of income for the Taliban is Swat’s forests. The symbiotic tie between Taliban militants and the Timber mafia in Swat and nearby Dir is no secret. Large-scale illegal cutting of the region’s pine forests began simultaneously with the 2007 Taliban offensive in the area and the flight of most of the people living in the forests (Dawn, March 22). Taliban militants have been involved in the widespread cutting of the thick pine forests and apple orchards of Malam Jaba, Fatehpur, Miandam and Lalko, often in collusion with the mafia elements that cause enormous environmental damage to the region while making immense profits (The News, April 13).
Taliban financing efforts have reached the Orakzai Agency of FATA, situated close to Swat and Bajaur Agency, the site of heavy fighting between the Taliban and government forces in recent months. Taliban militants have demolished houses belonging to the minority Sikh community and confiscated their property in the Ferozkhel area of Orakzai Agency after they failed to pay the negotiated amount of 15 million rupees to the Taliban as jiziya—the poll tax levied on non-Muslim minorities living under Islamic rule as sanctioned by Shari’a. The houses were destroyed at the behest of Taliban commander Hakimullah Mahsud, the Taliban head in the Orakzai Agency and a close aide of TTP chief Baitullah Mahsud (The Nation [Islamabad], April 30). Earlier in April, Taliban militants demanded 50 million rupees a year as jiziya. To enforce their demands they held local Sikh leader Sardar Saiwang Singh captive and occupied a number of Sikh-owned houses (ANI, April 15; Daily Times, April 16).